Saturday, December 24, 2011

The People of Broken Glass

When I got into a graduate degree program at UC Berkeley in 1988, I found the proposition of attending a prestigious school quite frightening. I had actually written two of the three required recommendation letters myself. My Alma Mater, Ohio State University, was a totally adequate school but certainly didn't have the status and mystique of Cal Berkeley.

Mostly, I was afraid that the range of my experience growing up and being an adult (I was 37 when I got in to grad school) would not mix well with the pedigreed and polished lives of my classmates. UC Berkeley is a very difficult school to attend for folks who need to work for a living, due to the fact that all the major classes are during the day. Luckily, I was living with a supportive partner and able to take out a small loan, so with the financial aspects taken care of all that remained were the psychological ones.

Of course, once I was established at the school, I connected with others who came from backgrounds more similar to mine. We found each other immediately, with that unspoken radar that seems almost instictive.

And I also socialized with folks from very different backgrounds and perspectives. I remember eating lunch with a woman who had gone to an Ivy League school and was working on her second master's degree, preparing to go on for a doctorate. I thought about how I would love to spend my whole life in school and what it would actually cost to do that.

She was a very sweet person. In my experience, people who come from loving families where there needs are met on many levels usually are. They are like the folks in my workplace who tell me I complain too much. She was effusive, warm, fluffy and soft, a bit like sitting across from a gently purring, contented kitten.

My best friend at school, Shari, who I wound up calling "scary Shari" for reasons I won't go into, had a good luck, fend for yourself background more similar to my own. Sitting across the table from her was a bit like dining with a pile of shards of broken glass.

When I tell friends this analogy, they assume I am being negative and tremendously self-deprecating. To which I can respond, "I'm Jewish and working class and we tend to be like that." But I truly believe that most of the earth-moving, gut-wrenching, creative contributions to society are made from the outside, not from sleepy kittens, but from honest, damaged people of broken glass, the ones with the power to reflect back a brutally accurate image of society at every level. You only have to hold us up to the light for all things to become visible!

Happy, Merry and Peaceful whatever you celebrate, even if it's just a day off work!